The institution of slavery in the United States defines a dark and shameful era in American history. The Digital Library on American Slavery (http://library.uncg.edu/slavery) reveals in vivid detail that this bondage affected every segment of society.
From 1991 to 1995, history professor Loren Schweninger visited 14 Southern state archives and about 160 county courthouses. He photocopied and microfilmed records relating to race and slavery. In subsequent years, he added to the collection.
The result is an amazing website that identifies 150,000 individuals, including 80,000 slaves and 10,000 free persons of color. Records used include thousands of county court and legislative petitions filed from 1775 to 1867 in 15 slave states and the District of Columbia.
The petitions involve such issues as wills, divorces, runaway slaves, calls for abolition and property disputes. Individuals with African roots may find their slave ancestors clearly identified. Those with no idea that their ancestors were slave owners may come face to face with the brutal truth.
Here are a few examples of the materials included in this database:
The file also shows that in 1772 Jane Allen had been prosecuted and convicted of "molatto basterdy." The court sentenced her to seven years of servitude. The 5-month-old "bastard child" was called Natt, and the court sentenced him to servitude until he turned 31 years old. His master immediately sold Natt to Higgins.
The court granted Allen's request.
In Alabama's Sumter County in 1843, Underwood sought a divorce from her husband, Joel, on the grounds of cruelty and his adultery with a female slave. She charged "due to this illicit relationship her husband communicated [to her] a disease too loathsome and shocking to mention."
In Mobile County, Ala., in 1846, Snow's life followed much the same line. She alleged that her husband, Harvey, engaged in criminal intercourse with his own "Negro woman slave" in his own house and had a child by her.
Many family secrets certainly are hiding in files indexed and abstracted on this website, which also directs researchers on how to get the complete case files.